Identical twin sisters who couldn't look more alike...or live more differently.
Harper Frost is laid-back, easygoing. She doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. She likes a beer and a shot and wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything fashionable. She's inherited her father's rundown house on Martha's Vineyard, but she can't hold down a job, and her latest romantic disaster has the entire island talking.
Two beautiful islands only eleven miles apart.
Tabitha Frost is dignified, refined. She prefers a fine wine and has inherited the impeccable taste of her mother, the iconic fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. She's also inherited her mother's questionable parenting skills – Tabitha's teenage daughter, Ainsley, is in full rebellion mode – and a flailing fashion boutique on Nantucket in desperate need of a cash infusion.
One unforgettable summer that will change their lives forever.
After more than a decade apart, Harper and Tabitha switch islands – and lives – to save what's left of their splintered family. But the twins quickly discover that the secrets, lies, and gossip they thought they'd outrun can travel between islands just as easily as they can. Will Harper and Tabitha be able to bury the hatchet and end their sibling rivalry once and for all? Before the last beach picnic of the season, there will be enough old resentments, new loves, and cases of mistaken identity to make this the most talked-about summer that Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have experienced in ages.
Release date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 432
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Listen to a sample
But wait! You’re torn. Should you choose Nantucket… or Martha’s Vineyard? And does it really matter? Aren’t the islands pretty much the same?
We chuckle and smirk at the assumption, shared by so many. Possibly you’re not familiar with the bumper sticker (a bestseller at the Hub on Main Street and proudly displayed on the vehicles of nearly every islander of distinction, including the director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce) that reads: GOD MADE THE VINEYARD… BUT HE LIVES ON NANTUCKET.
If you’re not swayed by that kind of shameless propaganda, then consider the vital statistics:
Original inhabitants: Wampanoag Indians
Distance from Hyannis: 30 miles
Area: 45 square miles
Population: 11,000 year-round; 50,000 summer
Number of towns: 1
Famous residents: Prefer not to be named
Settled: 1642 (We say: “Age before beauty”)
Original inhabitants: Wampanoag Indians
Distance from Woods Hole: 11 miles (We say: “It’s practically the mainland!”)
Area: 100 square miles (We say: “Twice as big”)
Population: 16,535 year-round; 100,000 summer (We say: “Twice as many”)
Number of towns: 6 (We are speechless [!!!]—and can someone please tell us what is up with Chappaquiddick?)
Famous residents: Meg Ryan, Lady Gaga, Skip Gates, Vernon Jordan, Carly Simon, James Taylor, and… John Belushi, deceased and buried off South Road (They have Bluto; we say: “So what?”)
Is there any part of Martha’s Vineyard that can compete with our cobblestone streets or the stately perfection of the Three Bricks, the homes that whale-oil merchant Joseph Starbuck built for his three sons between 1837 and 1840? Does the Vineyard have an enclave of tiny rose-covered cottages—as whimsical as dollhouses—as we do in the picturesque village of ’Sconset? Does “MVY” have a protected arm of golden-sand beach, home to piping plovers and a colony of seals, as our northernmost tip, Great Point, does? Does it have a sweeping vista like the one offered across Sesachacha Pond toward the peppermint stick of Sankaty Head Lighthouse? Does it have a dive bar as glamorously gritty as the Chicken Box, where one can hear Grace Potter one week and Trombone Shorty the next? You might not want to get us started on the superiority of our restaurants. If it were our last night on earth, who among us could choose between the cheeseburger with garlic fries from the Languedoc Bistro and the seared-scallop taco with red cabbage slaw from Millie’s?
We understand how you might confuse those of us here with our compatriots there—after all, our region is lumped together as the Cape and the islands—but we are two distinct nations, each with its own ways, its own means, its own traditions, histories, and secrets, and its own web of gossip and scandal. Think of the two islands as you would a set of twins. Outwardly, we look alike, but beneath the surface… we are individuals.
There is a bumper sticker—a bestseller, according to the owner of Alley’s General Store—that reads: GOD MADE NANTUCKET, BUT HE LIVES ON THE VINEYARD. Some of us would have edited that bumper sticker to say BUT HE LIVES IN CHILMARK—because who wants to be lumped in with the honky-tonk shenanigans happening down island?
However, in the interest of keeping this a foreign war and not a civil one, let’s celebrate the reasons we’re superior to Nantucket. The Vineyard has diversity—of races, of opinions, of terrain. We have the Methodist campground, with its colorful gingerbread houses; the Tabernacle; Ocean Park; Inkwell Beach; Donovan’s Reef, home of the Dirty Banana—and that’s only in Oak Bluffs! We have dozens of family farms that harvest an abundance of organic produce; we have the Jaws Bridge and the cliffs of Aquinnah; we have East Chop, West Chop, the Katama airstrip, and a neighbor in Edgartown who keeps llamas on his front lawn. We have Chappaquiddick, which is a lot more than just the place where Teddy Kennedy may or may not have driven Mary Jo Kopechne to her death off the Dike Bridge. After all, there is a Japanese garden on Chappy! And if we let the air in our Jeep tires down to eleven pounds and pay two hundred dollars for a sticker, we can enjoy the wild, windswept beauty of Cape Poge.
We have rolling hills, deciduous trees, and low stone walls. We have Menemsha, the best fishing village in the civilized world, where one can get the freshest seafood, the creamiest chowder, and the crispiest, most succulent fried whole-belly clams. Have you never heard of the Bite? Larsen’s? The Home Port? These are iconic spots; these are legends.
We have the best celebrations: Illumination Night, the Ag Fair, the August fireworks. We aren’t sure what anyone celebrates on Nantucket other than being able to land a plane successfully at the airport despite the pea-soup fog or finally being able to find the correct shade of dusty pink on a pair of dress pants.
But what really makes the Vineyard special is the people. The Vineyard boasts a large and active population of middle-and upper-class African Americans. We have Brazilian churches. We also have celebrities, but you would never recognize half of them because they have to wait in line at “Back Door Doughnuts” and sit in traffic at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven just like everyone else.
Most of us have only been to Nantucket for one reason: the Island Cup. We won’t say anything about the football game itself, because no one likes a braggart, but every time we visit to cheer on our high school players, we can’t help wondering how our fellow islanders can bear to live on such a flat, barren, and foggy rock so far out to sea.
Still, there is a connection between us that’s hard to refute. Geologists suspect that as recently as twenty-three thousand years ago, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod were all part of one landmass. It might be easier to think of us as sisters—twins, even—birthed by the same mother. We like to think of Martha’s Vineyard as the favorite.
But then, of course, Nantucket likes to think of herself as the favorite.
Reed Zimmer isn’t on call at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, June 16, when Harper Frost’s father, Billy, draws his final breath. Dr. Zimmer is at a picnic at Lambert’s Cove with his wife’s family; apparently they hold the same party every year at the start of summer—bonfire, potato salad, chicken blackening on the portable Weber grill. Sadie Zimmer’s brother, Franklin Phelps, is one of the Vineyard’s favorite guitar players—Harper always goes to hear him when he’s playing at the Ritz—and Harper imagines Dr. Zimmer, his feet buried in the cold sand, singing along with Franklin to “Wagon Wheel.”
Harper is still at her father’s bedside when she sends Dr. Zimmer a text. It says: Billy is gone. She imagines his shock followed by his guilt; he promised Harper it wouldn’t happen tonight. He told her that Billy still had time.
“Check in on him as usual,” Dr. Zimmer had said that afternoon when he rose from Harper’s bed, the white sheets tangled from their lovemaking. “But feel free to enjoy your weekend.” He had looked out her window at the lilac bush, which overnight, it seemed, had exploded into a show-offy bloom. “I can’t believe it’s all starting again. Another summer.”
Feel free to enjoy your weekend? Harper had thought. She hated when Reed talked to her as though she were merely his patient’s daughter, a virtual stranger—but isn’t she a stranger to him, in a way? Reed only sees Harper when she’s sitting by her father’s hospital bed or when they’re making love in her duplex. They don’t go on dates; they have never bumped into each other at Cronig’s; Reed claims he has never noticed her driving the Rooster delivery truck, even when she waves at him like a woman drowning. Harper and Reed have been sleeping together only since October, and so she isn’t sure what ‘another summer’ means to him. Today offered the first clue: his wife’s parents, the elder Phelpses, are now in residence at their house in Katama, recently arrived back from Vero Beach. There will be family obligations, such as this picnic, when it will seem as though Reed is living on another planet.
Harper waits a few moments before texting anyone else. Her father is right here, but he’s gone. His face is slack; it looks vacated, like a house where there’s no one home. Billy died while Harper was talking to him about Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox; he took one great shuddering breath, then another, then he looked right into Harper’s eyes, into her heart, into her soul, and said, “I’m sorry, kiddo.” And that was it. Harper put her ear to his chest. The machine issued its sustained beep. Calling the game. Over.
Reed doesn’t text back. Harper tries to remember if there is cell reception at Lambert’s Cove. She is always making excuses for him, because of the three men now remaining in her life, he’s the one she’s in love with.
She sends the same text—Billy is gone—to Sergeant Drew Truman of the Edgartown Police Department. Harper and Drew have been dating for three weeks. He asked her out while they were both on the Chappy ferry, and Harper thought, Why not? Drew Truman belongs to one of the most prominent African American families in Oak Bluffs. His mother, Yvonne Truman, served as a selectman for more than ten years. She is one of the five Snyder sisters, all of whom own brightly colored, impeccably maintained gingerbread cottages facing Ocean Park. Harper remembered Drew back when he was a high school athlete featured every week in the Vineyard Gazette sports pages. He then went to college and the police academy before coming home to Dukes County to serve and protect.
Harper had thought that dating someone new might ameliorate the agony of seeing a married man. She and Drew have gone out six times: they’ve eaten Mexican food at Sharky’s four times (it’s Drew’s favorite, for reasons Harper can’t quite comprehend), they had lunch once at the Katama airstrip diner, and their most recent date was a “fancy” night out at the Seafood Shanty—surf and turf, water views, singing waiters. Harper knows that Drew expected sex at the end of the night, but Harper has been able to hold him off thus far, citing her dying father as the reason she can’t be intimate.
Drew is keen to introduce Harper to his mother, his brother, his brother’s wife, his nieces and nephews, his aunties, his cousins, his cousins’ children—the whole extended Snyder-Truman family—but this, too, is a step Harper isn’t ready to take. Part of her does yearn to be taken in, fussed and clucked over, cooked for, admired and petted, even argued with and looked askance at because her skin is white. In short, there is appeal in being “official” with Drew. But the harsh reality remains: Harper loves Reed and only Reed.
Harper sighs. Drew is working the beat tonight. He makes double time on weekends, but with all the bozos out drinking too much and enjoying the first days of the summer season, is it worth it? He’ll go on thirty calls, she bets, and twenty-seven of them will be drunk and disorderlies and three will be accidents involving taxi drivers who haven’t learned their way around yet.
The third man remaining in Harper’s life is her precious, damaged friend Brendan Donegal, who is exiled over on Chappy. Harper wants to let Brendan know that Billy has died, but Brendan can’t manage texting anymore. Like twenty-six killer wasps, the alphabet swarms him. He uses his phone only to tell the time.
Nothing from Dr. Zimmer. Will Harper be forced to call? She calls Dr. Zimmer all the time because she has had many legitimate questions about her father’s condition—liver failure, kidney failure, congestive heart failure. Billy Frost’s end has been a series of failures.
Surely no one will fault Harper for calling Reed now, after her father has died. But she has an uncomfortable premonition. She waits.
Billy Frost is dead at the age of seventy-three. Harper takes a stab at writing his obituary in her mind as the nurses come in to clean him up and prepare him for the fun-filled ride to the morgue. William O’Shaughnessy Frost, master electrician and avid Red Sox fan, died last night at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, in Oak Bluffs. He is survived by his daughter Harper Frost.
And… his daughter Tabitha Frost… and his granddaughter, Ainsley Cruise… and his ex-wife, Eleanor Roxie-Frost, all of Nantucket, Massachusetts. What will surprise people the most? Harper wonders. That Billy has a daughter identical to but completely different from the cute screw-up who delivers packages for Rooster Express? Or that Billy used to be married to the famous Boston fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost, more commonly known as ERF? Or will the shocker be that the other half of Billy’s family lives on the rival island—that fancy, upscale haven for billionaires? Harper’s twin sister, Tabitha, hasn’t set foot on Martha’s Vineyard in fourteen years, and Harper’s mother, Eleanor, hasn’t been here since her honeymoon, in 1968. Harper’s niece, Ainsley, has never been here. Billy had been sad about that; when he wanted to see Ainsley, he had to go to Nantucket, which he did, religiously, every August.
You sure you don’t want to come with me? he used to ask Harper.
I’m sure, Harper would say. Tabitha doesn’t want me there.
When will you girls learn? Billy would reply, and Harper would mouth along with him. Family is family.
Family is family, Harper thinks. That’s the problem.
Nothing back from Reed. Harper imagines him eating pie. Reed’s wife, Sadie, is famous for her pies; her mother used to have a stand along the side of the road, and Sadie has capitalized on that artisanal pie-making endeavor and turned it into a gold mine. She rents a small commercial kitchen and storefront in Vineyard Haven—it’s a scant mile from Harper’s duplex—and cranks out the pies: strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry-peach, lobster pot. A lobster pot pie costs forty-two dollars. Harper knows this because, near the end of his life, Billy Frost became a fan. One of his female admirers (and there were many) dropped off a lobster pot pie all warm and fragrant and filled with claw and knuckle meat in a thick sherry cream sauce under golden pastry, and Billy declared that he had died and, against all expectations, gone to heaven. When Billy got really bad but could still eat, Harper had felt it her duty to buy him a lobster pot pie. She had entered the shop—the Upper Crust—with trepidation, knowing she was most likely going to come face-to-face with her lover’s wife for the first time.
Harper was forearmed, but seeing Sadie had come as a shock. She was far shorter than Harper had expected; her head barely cleared the top of the pie case. Her hair was cut short like a boy’s, and her eyes bulged, giving her the expression of a cartoon character perpetually caught by surprise.
Sadie didn’t seem to have any idea who Harper was. She displayed no wariness, just a pleasant smile that revealed a gap between her two front teeth. Harper knew that some men found a gap like that sexy, although Harper never understood the attraction. If her own teeth had looked like that, she would have beat it straight to the orthodontist.
“Can I help you?” Sadie had asked.
“My father is dying,” Harper blurted out.
Sadie’s eyes popped a little more.
“He wants a lobster pot pie,” Harper said. “It’s the one thing he’s been asking for. Mrs. Tobias dropped one off last week for him, and he can’t stop talking about it.”
“Mrs. Tobias is an excellent customer,” Sadie said. She tilted her head. “Is your father Billy Frost, by any chance?”
“Yes,” Harper said. She felt like she was on a roller coaster, cresting, cresting…
“Mrs. Tobias told me he was sick. You know, he installed some light fixtures for me when I first opened this shop. He was the only electrician who was willing to do it. Everyone else said I had to call the contractor who had wired it back when it was a scented-candle place, but that guy had long ago gone to jail.”
“Buttons,” Harper said, almost involuntarily. Billy had absorbed much of Buttons Jones’s business when Buttons was indicted for tax evasion.
Sadie retrieved a lobster pot pie hot from the oven. For a second, Harper thought the pie would be free of charge, a gift for a man who had long ago done Sadie Zimmer a solid.
“That’ll be forty-two dollars,” Sadie said.
Harper has a hard time imagining Reed and Sadie together at home. She knows which house is theirs—it’s in West Tisbury, near the Field Gallery—but she’s never been inside. She can more easily imagine the Zimmers sitting side by side in the sand in front of the fire at Lambert’s Cove. Maybe Sadie has a beautiful singing voice, whereas Harper—although she loves to sing at the top of her lungs in the Rooster Express delivery truck—can’t carry a tune. It isn’t a competition, Harper knows, not in a column-of-pros-and-cons way. Love is a mystery.
One of Billy’s nurses, Dee, pokes her head into the room. “How you holding up?”
Harper tries to nod—Okay—but all she can do is stare. “I can’t reach Dr. Zimmer,” she says, then she worries that she has just given it all away. “I mean, I know he’s not on call, but I thought I should tell him. Billy was his favorite patient.”
Dee gives Harper an indulgent smile, and Harper nearly expects her to say that all Dr. Zimmer’s patients are his favorites; that is the wonder of Dr. Zimmer. Then Harper worries that Dee is waiting for her to vacate the room; after all, she is no longer a paying customer.
But instead Dee says, “You were good to him, Harper. In some ways, you’ll probably find this is a blessing.”
A blessing? Harper thinks angrily. She wants to tell Dee to go eat some more cake, but then she wonders if maybe Dee is right. For the past ten months, Harper’s entire existence has consisted of worrying that Billy was going to die. Now that he’s gone, she is, in a way, free. There is nothing else to worry about. But she is left with a heavy mantle of grief, sadness so intense and piercing it should have another name. Since her parents’ divorce, when she was seventeen, Billy has been “her” parent. He was her friend, her hero, her unfailing ally, her everyday companion. She could not have dreamed up a better father—and now he’s gone.
Harper wipes away her tears, sucks in a sustaining breath, and says, like the brave soldier Billy believed her to be, “Onward.”
“Atta girl,” Dee says. “I’ll go fetch Billy’s things.”
Onward: as per Billy’s wishes, his body will be cremated, and his memorial reception will be held at the Farm Neck Golf Club. Once Harper sells Billy’s house, she will be able to quit her job at Rooster Express, a desperation job she got three years ago when Jude fired her from Garden Goddesses following the Joey Bowen catastrophe. And then what will Harper do? She could, in theory, start her own landscaping company. She’s sure the clients still ask for her, and not just because she used to mow their lawns in a bikini top. She is a nice person and a good person, despite circumstantial evidence to the contrary.
Dee reappears with paperwork for Harper to sign and a large Ziploc bag containing Billy’s clothes and belongings, including the gold 1954 Omega watch he inherited from his own father, which was the possession he had treasured the most. Billy Frost had come to Martha’s Vineyard in 1995, left flat broke by his divorce from Eleanor, and he had floundered, Harper knew, just as she had that same year as a freshman at Tulane. Billy had scavenged work as an electrical contractor, picking up scraps and leftovers from people like Buttons Jones. He had befriended the guys who cut down trees and moved houses and insulated crawl spaces; he befriended the fishermen and first mates, the transients and junkies who hung out at the Wharf pub and who, when they were flush, bothered Carmen, the bartender at Coop DeVille.
But Billy always wore his watch, the gold Omega, and this had set him apart.
What will Harper do with the watch? She has no one to pass it on to.
Tabitha has Ainsley, but what does a sixteen-year-old girl want with a gold 1954 Omega? Harper thinks of Ainsley’s father, Wyatt. Billy had been fond of Wyatt, but can Harper ever suggest that Wyatt take the watch? No.
Tabitha is a toothache that can’t be ignored for another second. Six weeks earlier, when Billy got really bad, Harper copied Tabitha’s cell number out of Billy’s contacts and, with the help of half a dozen Amity Island ales and three shots of Jägermeister, left Tabitha a voice mail informing her that if she wanted to see Billy one last time before he died, she had better do it soon. Tabitha had never responded—no surprise there. Harper wishes she had called Tabitha while sober, because she fears she slurred her words in the message, making it that much easier to disregard and delete.
Billy’s death warrants another phone call, but Harper is too angry to conduct one civilly. Did Tabitha deign to listen to the message? Did she come visit? Has she set foot on the Vineyard even once since the death of her son, Julian, fourteen years ago? She has not. Nantucket is 11.2 miles away, so it certainly hasn’t been an issue of proximity.
Harper sends Tabitha the same text. Billy is gone. And then, once safely inside her Bronco, Harper breaks down and calls Dr. Zimmer.
The phone rings six times, then he answers, voice hushed. Harper imagines he has stepped away from the bonfire and is standing in the shadows.
He says, “I’m sorry, Harper. I thought there was more time. Weeks.”
What kind of doctor is he? She wants to believe him incompetent or hate him, but she can’t. Reed gives everything he has to his patients. He stays late to do rounds; he never rushes; he is thoughtful, consistent, kind, clear. Not once in ten months did Harper ever feel like he wanted or needed to be someplace else; Billy might have been his only patient. Dr. Zimmer would, on occasion, show up with a surprise or treat for Billy—the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; an arrowhead he’d discovered on a hike; a box of Stoner Food from Enchanted Chocolates, which he knew Billy loved (and technically wasn’t allowed to have). Reed Zimmer was like a doctor from TV, but better because he was real. He was both handsome and human. Sometimes he had bags under his eyes from staying up all night; sometimes he had scruff on his face or mussed hair. Sometimes he showed up wearing jeans and a gray T-shirt under his white coat. How could Harper have done anything but fall in love with him?
“Come to me,” she says.
“Not tonight. I…” His voice breaks off, and Harper imagines Sadie snatching the phone from his hand. Harper has harbored a sense of foreboding since she woke up that morning. She feels like her Siberian husky, Fish, when his ears prick: that dog can hear a mouse fart three miles away. “I have to stay here with my family.”
It isn’t your family, Harper wants to point out. It’s Sadie’s family.
“My family just died,” Harper says.
Reed is quiet—whether out of guilt or because he’s distracted Harper isn’t sure.
“Have you called your sister?” he asks. “Or your mother?”
My mother? Harper thinks. Ha! If Harper calls Eleanor to say that Billy has died, her mother will sniff or cough in response. Maybe. There was a time, during the heavy shelling of the divorce, when all Eleanor had wanted was for Billy to drop dead. At her most gracious, she might say, I’m sorry for your loss, darling, but with all that smoking, Billy really had it coming.
Eleanor hadn’t always felt that way, of course. Once upon a time, Eleanor Roxie-Frost and Billy Frost were a dynamic, magnetic couple—Eleanor a prominent fashion designer, Billy the owner of Frost Electrical Contractors, Inc. They lived on Beacon Hill in a house they inherited from Eleanor’s parents, and there they raised identical twin girls. They did things properly: they attended Church of the Advent one Sunday a month as well as on Christmas and Easter, like good Episcopalians. They sent the twins to Winsor, the private all-girls school where both Eleanor and Eleanor’s mother had gone. Billy and Eleanor attended parties at the Park Plaza, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Harvard Club. At social events, they were photographed so often that they developed a trademark stance: Eleanor would beam at the camera while Billy snaked an arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. They were Boston’s sweethearts; the city adored them.
Ultimately, Harper supposes, it was success that ruined them. Eleanor’s dresses became so popular that she was able to open a three-story eponymous boutique on Newbury Street. For nearly two years, Eleanor was at the building night and day, overseeing renovations and designs. A photograph of Eleanor wearing a pencil skirt, stiletto heels, and a hard hat, giving the camera a working girl’s come-hither look, appeared in Women’s Wear Daily. That had been the first thing to set Billy off.
“Your mother,” Billy said, holding the photograph up for display over the breakfast table, “is only happy when she’s one hundred percent in control.”
The real issue, the twins soon learned, was that Eleanor hadn’t hired Billy’s company to do the electrical work on her boutique. She refused to do so on principle; she said she felt that working together would ruin their marriage.
“That’s a bunch of baloney,” Billy said. “Your mother is a secret snob. She doesn’t want the fancy photographers capturing a picture of her working-class husband. She has always thought she married beneath her.”
There were loud fights that year, Harper remembers. Billy accused Eleanor of abandoning her family for the store; Eleanor resented what she called Billy’s foot on her throat. Why didn’t he want her to succeed? He’d known from the first night he met her that she’d wanted a career.
Billy decided that the only way to get Eleanor to stay home was for him to go out more. He started spending three and four nights a week at the Eire Pub in Dorchester with a group of men Eleanor characterized as thugs. Billy’s friends were no better than Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill gang, she said.
Au contraire, Billy said, his French accent impeccable even after he’d had six or seven whiskeys, thanks to the many years he’d spent living with Eleanor. These friends of his from Southie were aboveboard. They were encouraging Billy to run for city council.
Over my dead body, Eleanor said.
I should be so lucky, Billy said.
Billy and Eleanor divorced the summer before the twins left for their respective colleges. The twins were seventeen, still minors—and with Tabitha heading to Bennington and Harper to Tulane it would be four years at least until the girls were financially independent. It had been Eleanor’s idea to split the girls—one would be Eleanor’s financial responsibility and live with her during summer vacation, and the other twin would go with Billy. Then, on holidays, the girls would switch parents. What Eleanor could not abide was the thought of split time—both girls with one parent or the other, their possessions traveling between the households in a suitcase. It was unseemly, Eleanor said.
What Harper realizes now is that her mother was terrified of being alone. Eleanor’s parents had died; her sister, Flossie, had moved to Florida. Eleanor had no friends, only business associates.
What Eleanor did not bank on, however, was that both girls wanted to go with Billy. When they finally summoned the courage to announce this, Eleanor laughed dismissively and said, “All girls prefer their fathers. That’s a known fact. I certainly preferred mine. But Billy can’t afford both of you, so I’m afraid one of you is coming with me. I don’t care which one of you it is, because unlike the two of you, I don’t play favorites. I love you both the same. The two of you work it out between yourselves, please. By morning.”
There followed one of the most agonizing nights of Harper’s life—an hours-long session of whispered pleading, debating, and bargaining, then finally an out-and-out fight with her sister. Harper argued that she had always been a smidge closer to Billy—she was the athletic one, and she was the one who liked the Red Sox! Tabitha argued that she had been named for Billy’s mother, whereas Harper had inherited the maiden name of Eleanor’s mother, Vivian Harper Roxie, who was formidable indeed. Therefore, Tabitha said, Harper should go with Eleanor and Tabitha should go with Billy. It had unspooled like that until finally the girls—just short of coming to actual blows—decided to settle the dispute the way they had been settling disputes for seventeen and a half years: by shooting rock, paper, scissors.
It was a solution Billy had taught them. He claimed that any argument in the world could be solved by rock, paper, sci
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